Rachel Kelly
Writer, Mental Health Campaigner, Public Speaker

Depression…Acceptance…Hope…Recovery


Donna Chan is 42, and lives with her hus­band and two childr­en in North Lon­don.

She has had three sig­nificant epi­sodes of de­press­ion, has re­covered back to full health, and is keen to share her ex­peri­ence, in­sight and know­ledge with oth­ers.

Image courtesy of http://www.rethinkdepression.com/

The one gift that the il­l­ness de­press­ion has given me, is that I am my own proof that you can get bet­t­er. Each epi­sode of de­press­ion has given me in­sight and in­for­ma­tion on how to de­velop co­p­ing mech­an­isms to help when the sym­ptoms of de­press­ion are bat­ter­ing my mind and my body. My last epi­sode of de­press­ion las­ted for 3 months, which is half the time of my pre­vi­ous epi­sode which las­ted for 6 months. There is no doubt that the sup­port struc­ture that I built up hel­ped me to re­cov­er from this vile il­l­ness in a short­er per­iod of time.

Re­cogn­ise it as an il­l­ness.

You did not choose to be ill with a de­pres­sive il­l­ness. The same way you would­n’t choose to be ill with canc­er, high blood pre­ssure, di­abetes or a brok­en bone. If you sus­pect that you may have de­press­ion, if you can ident­ify with the sym­ptoms I’ve li­sted above, it would be best to con­sult with your GP in the first in­stan­ce. Would you con­sult with your GP if you had a funny rash on your body, or a per­sis­tent sore throat? De­press­ion is no dif­ferent, your GP knows of this il­l­ness and can help to treat it.

Medica­tion … It’s a Plast­er Cast

There is no shame tak­ing medica­tion in order to as­s­ist re­cove­ry from this il­l­ness. The same way you may need war­farin for a blood clot, in­sulin for di­abetes, beta-blockers for the heart, or a plast­er cast for a brok­en bone. My doc­tor li­kened anti-depressants as a ‘plast­er cast’ for my brain/mind - which would as­s­ist my frac­tured brain/mind to heal.

Com­pass­ion

This came up a lot when I was ill. I was told to stop giv­ing myself a hard time, and to be kind to myself. This was hard to be­lieve to start with, as the negative thoughts bom­barded me - a clas­sic sym­ptom of de­press­ion! But I tried and I got bet­t­er at it. Whatev­er the ‘de­press­ion demon’ tells you - chal­lenge it! Say to your­self ‘I won’t be hard on myself’ or ‘I choose to be kind to myself’ - the more you re­peat this the less chan­ce those negative thought have of penet­rat­ing your mind.

Keep in Touch

Keep in touch with friends and fami­ly in an­y way that you can. When I was rea­l­ly poor­ly I could­n’t an­sw­er phone calls or re­spond to text mes­sages. But I found on most days that I was cap­able of re­spond­ing to the text mes­sages around late even­ing. It re­duced my isola­tion by know­ing that friends and fami­ly cared for me, and that I could re­spond at some stage on most days. This will chan­ge throug­hout your re­cove­ry, until you are back on that phone nat­ter­ing about ‘this and that’ just like you did be­fore.

Breat­he

I was en­couraged to en­gage with deep breath­ing ex­er­cises, and it was sur­prising­ly easy to do! It helps to slow down both the body and the mind. There are lost of breath­ing ex­er­cises on­line which can help, but I found this one hel­ped me en­or­mous­ly. I was even able to do it on the days that I was able to ven­ture out­side (with my hands by my sides)

4-7-8 breath­ing

- To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breath­ing ex­erc­ise.

- Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silent­ly count to 4 as you breat­he in.

- Hold your breath, and silent­ly count from 1 to 7.

- Breat­he out com­plete­ly as you silent­ly count from 1 to 8.

Man­tras

On my most de­sperate days when I was con­fined to my room, I used to re­peat man­tras to help ward away the bar­rage of negative and il­log­ical thoughts. It rea­l­ly helps! Our minds can only ac­tion one thought at a time - if it is busy re­peat­ing positive man­tras, it re­duces head space for the negative and il­log­ical thoughts. Here are the man­tras that I used:

- Thoughts are not facts.

- My body is in char­ge, my brain is on a break

- I choose to be happy

- Dif­ficult times don’t last, this too shall pass

- I have taken ac­tion with my il­l­ness, I will be well again

- Each day is a day clos­er to re­cove­ry

- I focus on breath­ing and ground­ing myself

- I let go of wor­ries that drain my en­er­gy

- I am safe and sound and I will sur­vive this

- I choose to live in the pre­sent mo­ment

- My legs take me for­ward in life

Pos­sible Ac­tivit­ies

When I was poor­ly with de­press­ion life be­came de­bilitat­ing. Th­ings that I once en­joyed doing I just could­n’t do at the time of being ill, no matt­er how hard I tried. So I showed myself some com­pass­ion, and I stop­ped try­ing to do the stuff that I could­n’t do. I took ad­vice from loved ones on th­ings that per­haps I could try, in the hope that I could do them:

Writ­ing. The bi­ggest help­ful ac­tiv­ity was to write. I found that I could still write. I tried to write about the il­l­ness, but that was a doub­le edged sword and it was too pain­ful. So I chose to write about hap­pi­er times in­stead, which in­cluded holidays, friendships, fami­ly, my wedd­ing day, the birth of my childr­en. I wrote about all the th­ings I would like to do when I was feel­ing bet­t­er again. Writ­ing hel­ped en­or­mous­ly to re­mind me of who I still was.

Knitt­ing. A friend sug­gested knitt­ing, as once you learn the stitch, it be­comes a re­petitive ac­tion and easy to con­centrate on. As your knitt­ing ‘grows’ you can see a tan­gible re­sult of your work. This hel­ped en­or­mous­ly with the ‘ever­last­ing time’ of each day, when I was knitt­ing the time went by quick­er. I only ever knit­ted lengths of stuff - I could­n’t have fol­lowed a pat­tern at this time. My daught­er has gone on to use my vari­ous pieces of knitt­ing as blan­kets for her dolls - on one knit­ted piece she adap­ted it into an eye mask!

Gar­den­ing. I began to spend time in my gard­en, as it felt like a safe ex­tens­ion of my home. I tri­mmed back bus­hes, cut back branches on the tree, pul­led weeds out of the ground. I didn’t get round to plant­ing an­yth­ing, but it felt good to be ab­sor­bed in an ac­tiv­ity that I could still do, and it got me out of the house and into the fresh air.

Home Ac­tivit­ies. I could­n’t get to the shops, it was too dif­ficult and too pain­ful. So I gave myself com­pass­ion and I let oth­ers around me take care of the shopp­ing. But I could still do the wash­ing up, so I took this role on and it al­lowed me to con­tribute to the home in a way that I could.

There is a whole host of other ‘gentle’ ac­tivit­ies of which peo­ple may be­nefit from. Some ideas in­clude Home bak­ing. Draw­ing. Paint­ing. Col­our­ing in books. Poet­ry. Sew­ing. Paper mache. Putt­ing togeth­er a puzzle. Play­ing a board game.Play­ing a mus­ical in­stru­ment.

The above ad­vice may seem log­ical on paper, but sadly de­press­ion is not a log­ical il­l­ness. Some days you may be able to ac­hieve any numb­er of these as­sis­ted re­cove­ry sug­ges­tions, on other days you may not be able to get out of bed. That’s OK. The trick is to not beat your­self up about it. You are doing your best. If those negative thoughts come to tell you ot­herw­ise, try the man­tra’s I have sug­gested, or come up with some of your own, maybe some­th­ing that you can re­late to. And if you can’t come up with your own then re­vert to mine - they rea­l­ly hel­ped me!

I’d like to end with a say­ing I read when I was ill, that rea­l­ly re­sonated with me:

You can’t al­ways be strong, but you can al­ways be brave. You wake up every morn­ing to fight the same il­l­ness that left you so tired the night be­fore, and that, my love, is Brave­ry.


You can read more from Donna on her blog Chan­ny Chat